Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Perfectly Okay

My nephews were over the other day. They are three and four years old, and every time they come over, I marvel. I marvel at the way they toddle over to our playroom, dig through toys, and play. I marvel at the mess and at how seemingly unrelated objects are pulled out and played with together. I marvel at them playing on the floor for long stretches of minutes, coming up with ideas without being coerced, playing without thinking about playing.

Why? How? How does it come so easily to them and not to my son? I have often wondered. I think of the hours upon hours we've spent on the rug. I think of the books and binders of information and websites complete with video examples of games that might be enticing for kids on the spectrum.

Play around here can seem more like a college level course than just banging around with some cars and blocks.

Play means something different to Ethan than it might to a typical kid. (Then again, maybe not.) For Ethan, play means computer games, watching DVDs, or really anything with buttons. If he can push it and see what happens, he's happy. He also adores any board game. If the game has clear-cut rules and a clear beginning and end point, he's all for it.

More recently, he's added some creative elements to his play, Ethan-style. What does Ethan style look like? Pounding on the toy cash register with both hands and watching the numbers add up "to see which hand gets the most points." Or playing freeze dance with his CD player, the way they do in gym class. Or shooting his Angry Birds car slingshot and trying to knock various items down.

I've thought a lot about why good old fashioned imaginative play seems like a lot of work around here, and I don't mean for Ethan. I know why it's work for Ethan. It's work for Ethan because he's not a typical kid. But why is it work for me? Why can't play time just be play time without seeming like a therapy session? Why do I stress when Ethan is getting more than the allotted screen time approved by the experts?

I'd love to tell you it's because I care so much about my son and want the best for him, and know how critically important play is to development, but I'd be holding out a little.

It's time for full-disclosure here.

We parents can say we don't care about assessments and numbers, that we're not obsessing over our child having or losing a diagnosis, but in my case, that would not be totally true. If I'm completely honest, I know:

Ethan's lack of play skills are a big part of why he is on the autism spectrum. And yes, there is a part of me that has spent a lot of time (subconsciously) thinking if he could just improve on those, that 32.5 on the CARS (Child Autism Rating Scale) would dip down to a 29.

And what would that mean?

In reality, it would mean just about absolutely nothing. It would mean Ethan was "really close to autistic" rather than "just a little autistic." Who knows where those lines should really be drawn, anyway? But when you're a parent, and you feel overwhelmed about your child's needs, you get into habits. You tell yourself you won't fixate on things but a part of you does, because a part of you says labels don't matter while another quieter part still wishes your child would lose his.

I want to be done fixating.

On Sunday, while my nephews played unabashedly and without effort for a half hour, Ethan snuggled on the couch with my dad, watching the Patriots game. Every week he learns a little more about football. My dad, when he's visiting, relishes being able to teach him. I watched the way he cuddled up to his grandpa and asked about touchdowns and thought of how my brother Andy has never done such a thing, how we could not imagine Andy ever doing such a thing, as much as we wish he would.

"It's really okay," my mom said, as we watched the cousins play. "He doesn't have to play the 'right' way. He'll make his own way."

She'd said it before, and I'd agreed with her before. But this time I really felt it.

He learns in his own way, I told her. We're always amazed to see the way his brain takes different paths to reach the same destinations as other people. He's wired differently, but it's okay. He gets by. He makes a way.

My Floortime books encourage me to constantly be on the floor (literally) with Ethan, urging him toward the next developmental stage, warning to build strong foundations or critical pieces to my child's development will be missing.

That's all well and great, but sometimes I just want to relax with my son. And I want to marvel at the fact that in his own unique way, he is fearfully and wonderfully made. And that it's not my job to morph him into something he's not. And that's okay.

That is perfectly okay.


Kristi said...

Awww. Loved this post! Found you from Love that Max's linkup and I'm really glad I did!

Unknown said...

It's okay, but it is hard. I struggle with remembering that Boo enjoys things more because she worked so hard to be able to do what "typical" four-year olds can do.

I think it is also okay to wish, even for a moment, that she didn't.

Found you via love that max